Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal


In light of the critical need to shift from fossil fuels as the primary source of energy, China continues to plan expansive hydropower generation projects on the Yaluzangbu-Brahmaputra River, one of the few remaining clean and biologically diverse river basin ecosystems in China. In March 2011, the Chinese National People’s Congress approved the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (Plan) for national development with specific themes and targets within the economic and social arenas. The Plan has a specific focus on “higher quality growth,” which is defined in the Plan as addressing the issues of renewable energy and sustainability. Specifically, the Plan addresses issues of pollution, intensive energy use, and resource depletion, with a heightened focus on reducing energy use by decreasing the use of non-fossil fuels by 2020. The Plan targets seven industries that it intends to address or improve over the course of the Plan’s life. The Plan targets new energy industries first, and energy conservation and environmental protection second. The proposed new sources of energy in the Plan do not include hydropower, but they do include nuclear, wind, and solar.

In opposition to the referenced sources of renewable and sustainable energy within the Plan, China’s Premier Li Keying announced that China would build more dams. This speech reinstated his commitment to unleashing the biggest dam building spree in history, with the intent to decrease fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions. However, the use of dams does not simply offer an alternate source of energy for a country’s energy demands, but rather, the destruction of entire downstream river ecosystems. This destruction includes erosion of river embankments and floor, destruction of sensitive fish populations, extinction and ecosystem collapse, and obliteration of entire delta regions. Additionally, this destruction leads to displacement of indigenous human populations that represent the beginning of humanity and life that has relied on rivers since the beginning of time.